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Eight new pups report for duty

By Katherine Unger Baillie | kbaillie@upenn.edu | 215-898-9194 Published: Dec 24, 2019
Urban, a three-month-old black Labrador retriever, trains with Danielle Berger at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. Berger is leading the training for the U litter, composed of Urban and seven of her brothers and sisters, with assistance from interns including (left to right) Charlotte Kronick, Dominique Andrews, Trevor Vidas, and Tesa Stone.
Urban, a three-month-old black Labrador retriever, trains with Danielle Berger at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. Berger is leading the training for the U litter, composed of Urban and seven of her brothers and sisters, with assistance from interns including (left to right) Charlotte Kronick, Dominique Andrews, Trevor Vidas, and Tesa Stone. (All images: Eric Sucar/University Communications)
 

More sure-footed and confident by the day, the U litter puppies of the Working Dog Center are not yet 3 months old, yet are already a month into their training to use their agile bodies and sensitive noses to serve society.

These eight pups, all black Labrador retrievers, also fit into a special category: They are WDC legacies, the first to be born to two “graduates” of the Center, mom Pinto and dad Boomer.

Since their arrival at the WDC, they’ve been gradually introduced to tasks that will guide them on to careers in search and rescue, disease detection, police work, and more. With help from several interns, lead puppy trainer Danielle Berger makes sure the labs, each named for victims of September 11, receive a balanced mix of training, socialization, and rest.

Earlier this month, Penn Today caught up with JUel, Ugo, Uli, Uman, Umar, Upton, Urban, and Uzza on a busy day of training, which, to an untrained eye, looks an awful lot like play—probably because, to the puppies, work and play are one and the same.

Though the U litter is graced with excellent pedigree—Pinto and Boomer both work in cadaver detection—they are still puppies with a lot to learn. “Play dates” with older dogs, such as Lucy, a Dutch shepherd, teach puppies like Ugo good social skills.

Though the U litter is graced with excellent pedigree—Pinto and Boomer both work in cadaver detection—they are still puppies with a lot to learn. “Play dates” with older dogs, such as Lucy, a Dutch shepherd, teach puppies like Ugo good social skills.
 

The puppies get a mix of one-on-one training, group “puppy play dates,” and frequent snuggles, to ensure they’re skilled and well-socialized. When they’re not at the WDC, each puppy lives with a volunteer foster family.

The puppies get a mix of one-on-one training, group “puppy play dates,” and frequent snuggles, to ensure they’re skilled and well-socialized. When they’re not at the WDC, each puppy lives with a volunteer foster family.
 

Cindy Otto, executive director of the WDC, works Casey, an older WDC dog, through training to improve strength, balance, and fitness. Otto drew inspiration to found the Center after caring for working dogs that responded to the 9-11 attacks. Each puppy that comes through the Center’s program is named for a 9-11 victim or working dog.

Cindy Otto, executive director of the WDC, works Casey, an older WDC dog, through training to improve strength, balance, and fitness. Otto drew inspiration to found the Center after caring for working dogs that responded to the 9-11 attacks. Each puppy that comes through the Center’s program is named for a 9-11 victim or working dog.
 

In a “runaway” drill, Drexel co-op intern Lauren Filipe hides in a crate, encouraging Urban to chase after her. The aim of the exercise is to elicit a bark from Urban, which will be her signal to her handler that she’s found the object of her search. Urban quickly obliged.

In a “runaway” drill, Drexel co-op intern Lauren Filipe hides in a crate, encouraging Urban to chase after her. The aim of the exercise is to elicit a bark from Urban, which will be her signal to her handler that she’s found the object of her search. Urban quickly obliged.
 

Located at Pennovation Works, across the Schuylkill River from Penn’s main campus, the WDC makes use of nearby buildings and open spaces to train the puppies and give them room to roam.

Located at Pennovation Works, across the Schuylkill River from Penn’s main campus, the WDC makes use of nearby buildings and open spaces to train the puppies and give them room to roam.
 

Trainers erect various obstacles and challenges for the puppies to navigate, helping them improve their agility and also conquer any fears. “The genetics are shining through in these dogs,” says Berger, encouraging Uman to cross a narrow plank.

Trainers erect various obstacles and challenges for the puppies to navigate, helping them improve their agility and also conquer any fears. “The genetics are shining through in these dogs,” says Berger, encouraging Uman to cross a narrow plank.
 

About Penn Vet

Ranked among the top ten veterinary schools worldwide, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is a global leader in veterinary education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the first veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling nearly 35,300 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles nearly 5,300 patient visits a year, while the Field Service treats more than 38,000 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

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